Civilians killed in Central African Republic

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An armed militia killed 34 civilians in an attack in Central African Republic (CAR), a government spokesman said, issuing a deadline for the group’s leader to hand perpetrators to the authorities.

The attack was the deadliest since 14 armed groups agreed a peace deal in February meant to bring stability to a country rocked by violence since 2013, when mainly Muslim Selaka rebels ousted the then president, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militia.

The group ‘Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation,’ or 3R, attacked villages in the north-west region Pahoua, seeking revenge for the killing of an ethnic Peul, government spokesman Ange Kazagui said at a joint briefing with the United Nation’s MINUSCA peacekeeping mission.

Government calls on 3R leader Sidiki Abass to “arrest and hand over those responsible for this massacre to authorities in the next 72 hours or risk being held personally responsible”, Kazagui said.

The bloodshed will further test the peace agreement, already under strain due to disagreements over representation in the cabinet.

“MINUSCA asks 3R in particular and all armed groups in general to show strict respect for international human rights and the reconciliation and peace agreement,” MINUSCA spokeswoman Uwolowulakana Ikavi-Gbetanou said.

Government and rebels expressed optimism when the accord was signed on February 5. Lasting peace is not guaranteed: similar agreements in 2014, 2015 and 2017 broke down.

The 3R group emerged in late 2015 to protect the minority Peul population, mostly Muslim cattle herders, from attacks by Christian anti-balaka militias.

Thousands died because of unrest in the diamond and gold-producing country, and a fifth of the 4.5 million population fled their homes.